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WHO WAS THE REAL "LEO THE ISAURIAN"?

Author(s): Constance Head


Source: Byzantion, Vol. 41 (1971), pp. 105-108
Published by: Peeters Publishers
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44170309
Accessed: 28-01-2018 03:22 UTC

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WHO WAS THE REAL "LEO THE ISAURIAN"?

In 1896, in a study published in Byzantinische Zeitschrift,


Karl Schenk set forth evidence to show that the epithet
"Isaurian" applied to the Emperor Leo III since Byzantine
times is a misnomer (^. The term is derived from early
manuscripts of Theophanes' Chronographia and, Schenk
believed, probably from Theophanes himself. There is much
evidence, however, to indicate that Leo III (717-741) was
not an Isaurian at all, but came originally from Germanikia
in Syria. Even Theophanes, in the same phrase in which
he calls Leo an Isaurian, names "Germanikia" as Leo's home
city (2) ; while the ninth-century Latin translation of Theo-
phanes' work ascribed to Anastasius, the papal librarian, plainly
speaks of Leo as genere Sgrus (3). Later scholars have called
attention, also, to the fact that Leo III was bilingual in
Greek and Arabic, and that such knowledge of Arabic, while
perfectly possible in one who grew up on the Syrian frontier,
is highly unlikely in an Isaurian (4). In summary, Schenk's
hypothesis has been almost universally accepted by modern
Byzantinists : the epithet "Isaurian" applied to Leo III is
mistaken.
But why, it may be asked, did Theophanes (or whoever
was responsible for the insertion of the phrase èx xfjç 'IaavQÍaç
in his Chronographia ) have this false idea concerning Leo's
place of origin? According to Schenk, the error stems from

(1) Karl Schenk, Kaiser Leons III Walten im Inneren , in B.Z.,


V (1896), 296 ff.
(2) Theophanes, Chronographia, I, 391, ed. de Boor.
(3) Schenk, op. cit., p. 297.
(4) See for example Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium : The Imperial
Centuries (New York, 1966), p. 61.

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106 C. HEAD

Theophanes' confusion in
town of Germanikia, Le
polis, a city of Isauria in
Schenk felt, wrote : Aéc
xarayó/ievoç èx rfjç ' î
the Chronographia, rea
Isauria, attempted to ex
phrase to read : ... èx r f
Oelą ôè èx rrjç 'Icravgíaç,
the issue further 0.
While Theophanes' alleg
possible, it is likely that t
reason for the origin o
really was a Byzantine E
"Leo the Isaurian" and w
Leo III. This is the Emperor Leontios (695-698).
The fact that Leontios officially changed his name to
"Leo" has come to be recognized only in modern times and
is based largely on numismatic evidence, for the Byzantine
chronicle sources invariably refer to him as "Leontios". It
was Lodovico Laffranchi who first identified Leontios' coinage
as distinct from that of Leo III (2). Both series give the
imperial name as Leon, yet the realistic likenesses of the
fat, round-faced Leontios are so completely different from
the highly stylized, very thin Leo III as to show conclusively
that two different Emperors are depicted. Laffranchi, how-
ever, believed that in Leontios' case, Leon was merely an
abbreviation of his full name. It was J. P. C. Kent who
showed in an article some years after Laffranchi's study
that "Leo" was the official name adopted by Leontios upon
his accession to the throne (s). The important contemporary
and near contemporary Latin sources such as the Liber
Pontificalis and Paul the Deacon invariably refer to the

(1) Schenk, op. cit., pp. 296-297.


(2) L. Laffranchi, La numismatica di Leonzio II (Perugia,
1940).
(3) J. P. C. Kent, The Mystery of Leontius II, in Numismatic
Chronicle, VI series, XIV (1954), 217-218.

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LEO THE ISAÜRIAN 107

Byzantine Emperors by their official


and in these works the Emperor we k
is always called "Leo".
Although Kent did not reflect upon
reasons that must have prompted this
are easy enough to guess. The only Leo
come close to the imperial throne was a
risen against the Emperor Zeno and w
patched (x). "Leontios" was thus a nam
would seem particularly so to a man
himself. "Leo", on the other hand, was a
precedents, recalling the long, successful
474), to say nothing of Leo II (474).
Thus we can be sure, the Emperor Leon
known as "Leo". As for his being an Is
is to be found in the Breviarium of the P
in the passage recording how Justinia
future Emperor Aedvriov <5 e r iva tccltqÍx
Qcov ÔQpwfisvov %<i> ç>aç (2). There is no para
place of origin in Theophanes' Chron
can readily believe that Theophanes, in
on the origin of Leo III, remembered th
Leo from Isauria but was confused as to which one he was.
There is in addition one other fact which could lead to
further confusion between Leontios and Leo III : each of
these men, prior to his accession to the throne, held for a
time the position of stratēģos of the Anatolikon theme. This
similarity in their background along with the similarity in
their names could well have contributed to Theophanes'
misapplication of the epithet "Isaurian" to Leo III.
In summary, while Schenk's hypothesis on geographic
confusion between the Syrian town of "Germanikia" and

(1) Numismatists have often counted this pretender as Leontios


I, and thus have accorded the seventh-century Leontios the imperial
number II. This practice, however, is no longer widely favored.
For details see Philip Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in
the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection,
II (Washington, D.C., 1968), p. 610, n. 3.
(2) Nikephoros, Breviarium, p. 37, ed. de Boor.

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108 C. HEAD

the Isaurian "Germanik


of a real Emperor Leo t
before Leo Ill's accession
more immediate reason
who was not an Isaurian, came to be known as one.

Western Carolina University, Constance Head.


Cullowhee ( North Carolina ).

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